Church Ladies

I was raised by a church lady. My mother was a woman who lived on coffee and the Bible. And you could find her each morning, on the sofa, before work, holding both.

“Go upstairs and shower,” she’d say when she saw me walking downstairs in the mornings. Then, she’d take a sip and go back to reading.

And I would take a shower because you always do what a church lady tells you. Always.

My mother gave me my first taste of coffee when I was a 5-year-old. I was over the moon. She couldn’t have picked a worse beverage to give a hyperactive child who could not sit still through an entire episode of Gilligan’s Island.

I was so grateful to her, coffee was an adult pleasure that seemed illicit somehow.

My mother always made her coffee the same way. She used a Corningware percolator on a stovetop, like church ladies have been doing since Adam and Eve attended the first Billy Graham crusade. When her coffee was ready, it would be hot enough to rip the flesh from the roof of your mouth and scald your liver.

That first morning, she gave me half a cup. It steamed. It smelled beautiful.

“How do you want it?” she asked.

“In a cup, please.”

“No, how do you take your coffee?”

“By mouth.”

“No, sweetie, I mean what do you want in your coffee?”

“I don’t know.”

“Let’s make it pretty.”

“Pretty?”

“That just means extra cream and extra sugar.”

Soon, my cup sat before me, fixed pretty. It was the color beige.

My mother grinned and said, “This is kinda nice, I don’t ever have anyone to sit and drink coffee with. Your father doesn’t drink coffee, he drinks Coke instead.”

And that’s the story of how I became my mother’s drinking buddy.

It meant a lot to me, being able to share that pleasure with my mother. On special occasions, she would sometimes let me brew coffee on the stove. I would always ask how she wanted her coffee—though I already knew.

“Make mine pretty,” she would say.

So, that’s how I drank my coffee as a boy, just like she did. Until the day I noticed my grandfather took his coffee black. I would never have known this except that I found his old coffee mug on the workbench. Inside the mug was dark, ugly, tar-like coffee substance.

I had to know how it tasted.

I took one sip of the stuff and almost gagged. At that age, it was the worst mess I had ever put in my mouth—not counting the time my friend Arnold Beasley dared me to drink the contents of what turned out to be his older brother’s snuff cup.

But no matter how bad the coffee tasted, something about this black coffee business made me feel like a real man. Therefore, I never took sugar or cream in my coffee again. Today, I wouldn’t put cream or sugar into coffee on a bet.

I became a novelty among my parents’ friends. My mother would let me brew coffee for her church lady peers, using the Corningware percolator. Her friends would marvel at how strange it was to see a child making coffee.

Then, I would pour myself a stiff black cup, yawn, and say to one of the church ladies, “So how ‘bout them Braves?”

They would almost pass a kidney stone.

“You let your son drink caffeine?” they would exclaim to my mother.

She would only shrug. “Only a little, besides, there’s more caffeine in a Ko-Kola.”

My mother and I were on the same wavelength. She understood me better than most people on this earth. Always has.

Today, I visited a small church in the woods of Covington County. I was invited by a group of Baptist women who I never met. It wasn’t a religious meeting, per se, these women were part of a quilting circle, and that’s what I was there to write about.

But when I arrived early, a white-haired elderly woman was already there, she asked me if there were any coffee to be had.

It was pure reflex. “Coming right up,” I said.

I found my way into the kitchen and by the time I found an aluminum percolator, the rest of the women had started arriving.

Thus, instead of writing about a quilting circle, I received 13 coffee orders. Most of these women wanted their coffees fixed pretty.

While the pot boiled, I met a lady named Matilda, who was situating saucers beneath each cup, and spoons on each saucer.

I told her about the first time my mother ever let me have coffee. It was the same tale I just told you.

She laughed. Her laugh reminded me of the good woman who raised me. My mother has a marvelous laugh.

“That story brings back good memories,” Matilda said. “You should write about that on your blog thingy, or whatever you call it.”

Well, you must always do what a church lady tells you.

45 comments

  1. Julie - March 13, 2019 6:54 am

    Glad to see memories including your Mom

    Reply
  2. Nell Thomas - March 13, 2019 7:03 am

    Great early morning story. Soon be time to make coffee.
    My mother-in- law had one of those Corningware perculators. Made the best coffee. She Kept it spotless like the rest of her kitchen. no specks and splatters anywhere. She had the church ladies over often- referred to this group as “The circle”. Things were kept so simple back then- 50′ s and 60’s-just cake and coffee- usually homemade. You go to a gathering nowadays and it’s like a Roman feast. The conversation often turns to “I’ve just got to lose some weight. Oh well, I’ll start tomorrow.”

    Reply
  3. Jean - March 13, 2019 9:19 am

    I am sitting here reading your column with my pretty coffee. Very civilized. Had those coffee pots…my Grandmother used to have one of the silver fancy plug in percolators. I can still smell that aroma of coffee wafting thru the house on those mornings.

    Reply
  4. Chuck Passarelli - March 13, 2019 10:02 am

    My thought this morning isn’t about this specific story other than to say it is a good one. Even at this early hour I can see the people you are writing about, hear the conversation and smell the coffee. And I’m smiling. What a wonderful gift as I step into my day. Thanks Sean. I’ll take mine black and strong enough to hold a spoon upright as my dad would say.

    Reply
  5. Erica Meyer Rauzin - March 13, 2019 10:24 am

    I began as a life-long coffee drinker when I was very little and my dad would dip a sugar cube in his coffee and give it to me. Best thing ever. Thanks for bringing back that memory.

    Reply
  6. Cathi - March 13, 2019 10:27 am

    Yep, you always gotta do what the church ladies say!

    Reply
  7. Mart Martin - March 13, 2019 11:42 am

    I remember, as a small boy, sitting at my grandmother’s light green Formica table, in a dimly lit kitchen, on a cold Mississippi morning, drinking “Granny coffee” – what you call “pretty.” My siblings and I still call it that to this day.

    Reply
  8. Amy Morissette - March 13, 2019 11:45 am

    Drinking coffee as I read your story! I loved having coffee with my Mama late in the afternoons when I would go to her house. She’s with Jesus now prolly having coffee! Look forward to your stories arriving in my email every morning. Love your stories!

    Reply
  9. Edna B. - March 13, 2019 11:50 am

    My laptop has been giving me fits, but I’m back now and catching up on your wonderful stories. It’s so awesome to have these wonderful memories of moments shared with your mom. You have a wonderful day, hugs, Edna B.

    Reply
  10. BJean - March 13, 2019 11:52 am

    I love how you love your mother 💓

    Reply
    • Sandi in FL. - March 13, 2019 4:07 pm

      I scho your remark, BJean. Sean adheres to the Platinum Rule: He treats other people the way he wants them to treat his wonderful mother.

      Reply
  11. Marilyn - March 13, 2019 11:54 am

    Enjoying my first cup of coffee and your blog. What a great start to my day!

    Reply
  12. Gary - March 13, 2019 12:05 pm

    My Mom and Dad started every morning sitting at the dining room table drinking coffee . Every single morning . I miss those days.

    Reply
  13. Jess in Athens, GA - March 13, 2019 12:12 pm

    I”m in my seventies and I’ve had two cups of coffee in my life. The first one was probably when I was a teenager. I didn’t care for the taste of it. The second one was when I was in the Army and I was trying to cure a hangover. It didn’t work and it didn’t taste good at all…so I gave it up…..uh, coffee, not drinking.

    Reply
  14. Peggy Savage - March 13, 2019 12:22 pm

    I had my first coffee at age 3. I remember it very clearly. It was half milk and sugar and a little bit of coffee. Been drinking it ever since.. Mom and I drank coffee together and talked almost every day. Great memories….thank you Sean for bringing them back.

    Reply
  15. Phillip Saunders. - March 13, 2019 12:22 pm

    No way we can refuse those church ladies. When they say “Frog” we ask, “How high?” You are a true :tough guy, Sean, drinking your coffee black. I am observing “alcohol-free” Lent again this year. After one week, I am still waiting for the Delirium Tremors to start, but so far, so good. As for giving up coffee, well, I guess my faith is just not that strong. Also, must have my coffee like my wife: pretty.

    Reply
  16. Nancy shields - March 13, 2019 12:24 pm

    I am no longer on Facebook so I can’t just “like” your post but it feels wrong to just read it and then go to the next email without giving you a ❤️ !

    Reply
  17. Lynda Clemons - March 13, 2019 12:47 pm

    I knew my granddaughter would be a coffee drinker as she used to make me pretend coffee when she was two. I introduced my grandchildren to “pretty” coffee very early. I still enjoy making them a cup whenever I get the chance.Would

    Reply
  18. Frank D.. Shaffer - March 13, 2019 12:50 pm

    That is a great story. Reminds me of my mother.
    Look forward to seeing you in Brewton tomorrow night.

    Reply
  19. Diane Tuttle - March 13, 2019 1:17 pm

    When I was a child, a visit from relatives or close friends meant that a fresh pot of coffee was soon perking on the stove. We would gather around the kitchen table, drink coffee and discuss life. I was allowed to participate unless the conversation was adult only. My coffee was normally 1/3 coffee and 1/3 milk with 2 Tablespoons of sugar. Now I drink it black.

    Reply
  20. Meredith - March 13, 2019 1:20 pm

    Sean Thank you for this post, what a beautiful description of our love of the daily cuppa! I laughed Out Loud!

    Reply
  21. Carol - March 13, 2019 1:39 pm

    I was raised up north and had a granddaddy that drank his coffee and hot tea from the saucer. Oh did I love that man. No I never did , but I sure love the way he did!
    Thank you for bringing back memories of sharing morning times with your most favorite person when we were little!
    Love ya!

    Reply
    • Judy - March 13, 2019 3:53 pm

      My granddaddy drank his coffee from a saucer, too, and he was from the south! I never knew anyone else who drank from a saucer. I. too, considered my granddaddy the best!

      Reply
  22. Ala Red Clay Girl - March 13, 2019 2:10 pm

    I remember those Corningware percolators. Does anyone remember the electric Poly Perk coffee pot? Strangely, while my husband and I don’t drink coffee, most of my kids like coffee. I never liked the taste, but I do love the smell of coffee. My daddy always called soft drinks “ko-kolas”. Thanks for the memories!

    Reply
  23. Eddy - March 13, 2019 2:41 pm

    Our Mama read the Bible and drank her coffee before work, too. However, my first cups of coffee we’re with my Grandpa when I was about 6 yrs. old. They had more milk and sugar than coffee, but we’re delicious! Grandpa also dipped his toast as I still do today. Like you, I usually drink it black now. By the way, CONGRATULATIONS ON YOUR FIRST NOVEL! We love you, Brother!!

    Reply
  24. robert - March 13, 2019 3:31 pm

    Great article, Sean! My dear mother takes her coffee with Pet Milk and honey. She grabs her Bible and goes to sit in the gazebo my father constructed years ago. She is followed by an old, faithful friend named Buster (her 12 year old mountain feist). It is these times that have drawn her closer to the Creator over the years.

    Reply
    • Ginger Clifton - March 13, 2019 4:18 pm

      Thanks, Robert, for mentioning that quiet time in the gazebo. As for the coffee, that honey sure makes it taste better along with a little dab of Pet Milk. Never could understand why these modern moms who freak out about their children drinking coffee will stop by the quick mart and buy them a 16 oz “ko-kola” or “dew” and let them slurp on it all day.

      Reply
  25. Karen - March 13, 2019 4:10 pm

    My mother let me drink pretty coffee, too. I can totally relate to how it made you feel grown up. My daddy traveled, and mama and I would share early morning coffee in turquoise cups.
    I would have loved to have known your mama.

    Reply
  26. Cathy Moss - March 13, 2019 4:18 pm

    Congratulations to your Mama, Sean. You one fine job raising you. I would love to meet her. Bet you are her pride and joy. Keep making her proud and hug her neck as often as possible. Once again, you make my day❤️🙏🏻👍❤️

    Reply
  27. Richard C. - March 13, 2019 5:46 pm

    Rural church, Covington County: I grew up and was married in one there. Judson Baptist located on State Hwy 55, about 9 miles south of Andalusia. Great, God-fearing people there.

    Reply
  28. Janie F. - March 13, 2019 6:03 pm

    I started drinking watered down (to cool it some) coffee when I was six Sean and I made my first batch of biscuits at six too. Honestly! I’d watched Mother do it so many times I knew the routine by heart, even turned the oven on. My parents asked if I’d washed my hands first and I told them no I forgot. They wouldn’t even taste them. But my Granny, bless her heart ate a whole one and said it was good.

    Reply
  29. Linda Moon - March 13, 2019 6:34 pm

    I never knew Billy Graham was as old as Adam and Eve…..learn something new every day.

    The black coffee business makes me feel like a Natural Woman, but Church Women are undoubtedly the best of us all.

    Reply
  30. Billie Gollnick - March 13, 2019 7:35 pm

    Just reading your story makes me happy.

    Reply
  31. Shelton A. - March 13, 2019 7:50 pm

    I’m thankful you had that relationship with your mom. As I grew older, I had that kind of relationship with my dad. Special, isn’t it? God bless you and Jamie. I take my coffee pretty…always have.

    Reply
  32. Pam Simpson - March 13, 2019 8:00 pm

    Your mama raised a fine man, Sean! I used to take my coffee pretty but now it’s black, some say like my heart. Whatever. Keep writing and telling your stories. And keep minding those Church Ladies.

    Reply
  33. Judy - March 14, 2019 12:49 am

    My mother let me have coffee one morning when I had just turned 16. My dad sat down to eat his breakfast and noted the coffee was fixed “pretty.” He told me that I couldn’t have coffee unless I drank it black. He didn’t want me hooked on adding calories to my cup, because he felt there would be a time I couldn’t enjoy my coffee while counting calories. Fast forward – two babies, and I decide to go Nursing School. After taking care of my 2 preschoolers, my house, and classes…I needed coffee to help me stay awake for studying. Once I graduated, I needed coffee to help me during long night shifts – when the patients slept nicely. But I can not drink my coffee black. I guess I like my coffee dress up pretty, because I prefer flavored creamers – still no calories added but tastes so good.

    Reply
  34. Linda Ireland - March 14, 2019 2:13 am

    My son was my coffee drinking buddy. He has been gone 10 years now. Thank you for bringing back those memories and a smile.

    Reply
  35. Barbara - March 14, 2019 2:22 am

    Thanks Sean for the wonderful story, I laughed until I cried, my mother made very strong coffee but I don’t think it would make you loose a kidney stone. Both my parents drank their coffee black, so do I, but not as strong, I’m not as tough as they were.
    Please keep the story’s coming we love reading then, today I really needed that laugh.

    Reply
  36. Erin Pepus - March 14, 2019 2:37 am

    One part of this truly rang home with me… your Mama used the word”Ko-Kola”! My Mama said that , too… sigh … I still miss her 22 years later … nobody says KO-KOLA… thank you!

    Reply
  37. Stuart - March 14, 2019 2:41 am

    I’m a Co Cola man too.
    Can’t stand the taste or smell of coffee.
    My good wife waits until I leave for work to brew it…..in a stainless percolator.

    Reply
  38. Jack Darnell - March 14, 2019 3:10 am

    I like ’em Church ladies. I married one!
    Thanks dude,
    Sherry & jack

    Reply
  39. Charaleen Wright - March 14, 2019 5:07 am

    Reply
  40. Jeanie C. - March 14, 2019 1:09 pm

    I say why mess up a good cup of coffee with sugar and cream. Black for me, always since I learned to drink coffee with my grandparents with La. and MS. backgrounds.

    Reply
  41. Robert Chiles - March 14, 2019 5:58 pm

    Started drinking coffee in the 1st. grade. We took our daughter to England when she was 17 and she had her first coffee there. She liked it so much she had 4 cups- and then stayed awake for two days.

    Reply
  42. Debbie - March 15, 2019 3:29 am

    I enjoy the aroma but don’t drink coffee. I am a quilter though, and I’d enjoy reading what you have to say about that.

    Reply

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